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Monday, February 25, 2013, 5:50 am

Tourism: Pliny the Younger phenom reaches the state Capitol

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    Dan Verel, Business Journal Staff ReporterRussian River Brewing Co.’s cult-like Pliny the Younger, a rare triple IPA, has received yet another accolade, this one coming from state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa.

    Ms. Evans announced she would present Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, owners of the Russian River Brewing, with a joint legislative resolution, recognizing the pub and brewery for it’s “outstanding community and customer service, exemplary business ethics and liquid craftsmanship that have provided the county with huge local economic benefits through jobs, sales and distinction.” 

    Russian River Brewing Co., Pliny the YoungerThe triple IPA, which is made using three distinct varietals of hops, has drawn international attention ever since it was rated the “best beer in the world” by trade magazine Beer Advocate three years ago.

    As a result, scores of beer aficionados have flocked to Santa Rosa once a year to get a sip of Pliny the Younger, which is only available for two weeks in early February. The brewery says that because of the cost of making the ale and the production involved, it’s not feasible to offer it year-round, adding further to its cult following. In fact, it stopped serving the beer in Washington so that it could meet local demand.

    Given the attention the beer has received — and the effect it’s had on downtown Santa Rosa — the Sonoma County Economic Development Board is seeking to quantify its economic impact as part of a broader study on the county’s microbreweries and craft beers. Visitors have reportedly come all the way from Japan and Denmark to sample the brew.

    The Economic Development Board said it’s study will be completed within the next month or so. It will look broadly at the sector, which is growing at a steady rate and producing jobs, according to the EDB.

    ***

    The Napa Winery Inn has joined the Ascend Hotel Collection, a portfolio of independent hotels from Choice Hotels International, giving the portfolio its first property in the Napa Valley.

    The 59-room boutique hotel, which was purchased by hotelier Rick Swig back last year for $6.8  million, recently underwent a  $1 million renovation and re-branding.

    As a member of the Ascend Collection, the hotel benefits from being featured in ChoiceHotels.com along with more visible, distribution, global sales, marketing and technology platforms.

    Since its launch in late 2008, Ascend Hotel Collection has grown to a portfolio of 74 properties, with signed membership agreements for an additional 24 slated to open during the first quarter of 2013. The hotels are located in business and leisure destinations in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and Central America.

    ***

    Passenger volume at the Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport in January was 2.4 percent higher than a year before and up 33.9 percent since the same month in 2008 after airline service returned.

    A total of 15,034 passengers flew Horizon Air, the airport’s only commercial carrier, in January. Volume was nearly equal for flights that originated in Santa Rosa and flights that originated elsewhere: 49.7 percent flew to Santa Rosa and 50.3 percent to one of the airport’s four destinations in the western U.S.

    Inbound passenger volume has historically trailed slightly behind flights originating in Santa Rosa, but airport officials have said the rising proportion of inbound flyers could point to an improving local economy and appeal for tourism. The proportion was equal for January 2012, compared with 48.8 percent inbound passengers in January 2008.

    Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Air Group, began offering commercial flights at Sonoma County Airport in March 2007. The regional carrier offered more than 150 flights last month, up 13.4 percent versus last year.

    The carrier offers five flights a day from Santa Rosa to Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego. Citing rising passenger volume, Horizon has committed to an additional Los Angeles flight this summer.

    ***

    La Condesa, a farm-to-table restaurant in St. Helena, hired Chris Mortenson as its new executive chef.

    A Bay Area native, Chef Mortenson specializes in Mexican cooking and has worked with well-known chefs in the genre. Prior to joining La Condesa, he worked at the original location of La Condesa in Austin, Texas, alongside James Beard Award-nominated Chef Rene Ortiz; served as executive chef at Chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken’s Border Grill in Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He previously owned his own Mexican restaurant, Sonora Grill, in Ogden, Utah before coming to St. Helena.

    ***

    A website has been launched to promote downtown Napa’s riverfront, www.NapasRiverfront.com, including information on everything from retail promotions and product offerings to special events and lodging information.

    Napa’s riverfront includes nearly 20 businesses, including downtown Napa’s most recognized names like Morimoto Napa, The Pear, the Napa River Inn, Silo’s, Fish Story, the Napa General Store and the Napa Valley Welcome Center.

    The website was designed by AugustineIdeas based in Roseville. The company also works with a variety of businesses in Napa, including Napa Tourism Improvement District, Downtown Napa Association and Napa Chamber of Commerce.

    Submit items for this column to Dan Verel, dan.verel@busjrnl.com. Eric Gneckow contributed to this column.

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